Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of International Women’s Day
8 March 2020
“Women are born free and remain equal to men in rights.” Today, Article 1 of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, written in 1791 by Olympe de Gouges, seems to us to state the obvious, but at the time of its publication, this message of justice, dignity and equality was still far from being the common opinion.
Since then, the cause of equality has made significant progress – particularly in recent years. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, whose 25th anniversary we are celebrating this year, was a catalyst for many initiatives in this regard.
Today, however, this ideal of equality remains a far horizon for too many women in the world. As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has reminded us, gender equality and empowerment of women and girls is the unfinished business of our time.
Whether in education or in the labour market, many inequalities – many injustices – persist. That is why UNESCO has made gender equality one of its two cross-cutting priorities, along with Africa.
On this International Day, UNESCO would like to focus in particular on inequalities in science and technology. UNESCO statistics have shown that women are currently four times less likely than men to master digital skills, even though these skills will be at the centre of future societies.
The development of artificial intelligence (AI), which constitutes a major scientific and anthropological breakthrough, threatens to deepen these inequalities. Indeed, since women researchers are under-represented in the sector of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the algorithms developed tend to reproduce gender stereotypes by amplifying them, as shown in the UNESCO publication I’d Blush if I Could. If we do nothing, there is a risk that AI will be the adversary, not the ally, of equality.
The last General Conference of UNESCO marked a historic step forward, which will help to counter this growing risk. The Member States have hence mandated UNESCO to launch work on the elaboration of the first global standard-setting instrument on the ethics of AI. By neutralizing algorithmic biases, we will thus help technology to serve – and not disserve – the cause of equality.
To fight for women’s rights is to fight for a universal goal of dignity. On this International Day, UNESCO would like to call on each and every one of us to rally around this common ambition that we have yet to achieve.